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10 Best Ideas for Family Fun in the Smokies

Courtesy of Inn at Christmas Place
By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
November 18, 2021
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracted around 12.1 million visitors in 2020, cementing its lead as America’s most visited national park. Not only do you experience beautiful mountain scenery with a number of recreational opportunities but also a land steeped with history and tradition. That, in turn, has drawn entertainment such as shopping and outdoor shows to the surrounding areas. Ranging from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Townsend in Tennessee to Bryson City and Cherokee in North Carolina, these places to go are fun for the whole family. You get much more than a park when you visit the Smokies; you get a vacation destination for all ages.

Cades Cove

Townsend, Tennessee
(865) 436-1200
This small community, preserved like a time capsule, harks back to hard-scrabble pioneer days. Visitors can see historical log homes and churches along the 11-mile loop as well as wildlife like deer and wild turkey within the park. Plan in advance to either take a ranger-led talk or traverse the area on horseback or bike.
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Courtesy of Dollywood Publicity Department


Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
(865) 428-9488
Singer Dolly Parton, who grew up in the Smokies, has worked tirelessly to promote the region and lends her name to one of the most popular Smoky Mountains attractions: Dollywood. Over the years, the theme park has grown to include roller coasters and even a water park. If you’re not much for rides, plan to browse the craft exhibits and catch various live music shows.
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Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Bryson City, North Carolina
(828) 586-8811
Options abound on this railroad, where you can choose from a number of scenic train rides; some are available on vintage locomotives. Sightseeing as well as rafting and ziplining packages are popular, especially if you decide to visit the Nantahala Gorge and its Nantahala Outdoor Center, a hub for outdoor adventures. For an even cooler twist, check the calendar for themed excursions, such as the Polar Express.
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AAA/Sherry Mims

The Inn at Christmas Place

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
(865) 868-0525
This themed AAA Three Diamond® hotel celebrates the holidays year-round and offers a number of amenities designed with families in mind. There are lush gardens, indoor and outdoor pools and Christmas-themed shopping across the street as well as nearby Pigeon Forge music venues, but the best perk of all is an on-site visit from Santa himself—from summer through December, he sings to children during his biweekly stops at the hotel.
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AAA/Sherry Mims

Ober Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
(865) 436-5423
When you’re in Gatlinburg, it’s basically a time-honored tradition to take the Aerial Tramway up to Mount Harrison. Once there, you can enjoy the views, shop, ice skate in the indoor ice rink or take in a seasonal attraction; think skiing or snowboarding in winter or riding the Ski Mountain Coaster in summer.
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Courtesy of The Old Mill Restaurant

The Old Mill Restaurant

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
(865) 429-3463
This is an attraction as much as a restaurant with a functioning gristmill that provides cornmeal and flour for the restaurant, so you’ll want to order home-style comfort food with these special ingredients in mind. One great option is the rainbow trout with a side of corn chowder—top it off with a pecan pie. Afterward, you can go buy a tasty souvenir like grits or pancake mix in the restaurant’s store.
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Peter's Pancakes and Waffles

Cherokee, North Carolina
(828) 497-5116
This local favorite breakfast place offers a hearty selection of eggs, French toast, and of course, pancakes and waffles. People come for miles to eat down-home favorites by the scenic Oconaluftee River. If you’re extra hungry, order the Country Boy Special, which comes with eggs, pancakes, and your choice of ham, bacon or corned beef hash.
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Tanger Outlets

Sevierville, Tennessee
(865) 453-1053
Anyone who’s been to the Smokies knows that there’s no shortage of places to shop. However, this outlet mall is the best in the area, offering an assortment of apparel and accessories at great prices. If you want to shop until you drop near all the local attractions, this is the place to go.
AAA/Sherry Mims

“Unto These Hills”

Cherokee, North Carolina
(828) 497-2111
The long-running drama shares the history of the Cherokee people from their storied origins to the heart-rending Trail of Tears and its legacy. Performed in the open-air Mountainside Theatre from late May to mid-August, the play includes elaborate costumes and special effects, as well as singing and dancing.
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Courtesy of Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
(865) 430-4800
This AAA Three Diamond property is big enough for everyone, including your extended family, with accommodations ranging from a studio to a five-bedroom villa. It’s conveniently located by Great Smoky Mountains National Park and close to Gatlinburg attractions and fudge shops. If you feel like staying in, you can relax in the spa, play mini golf or hit the indoor water park.
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